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Court tells foundation to make £277m grant to another charity after trustees’ divorce 

30 Jul 2020 News

The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) must make a £277m donation to another charity after two of its trustees divorced, the Supreme Court has ruled. 

Sir Christopher Hohn and Jamie Cooper set up CIFF in 2002 and are both trustees and members. The breakdown of their marriage created challenges in administering the charity. 

Their divorce settlement in 2014 agreed that CIFF should make the grant to Big Win Philanthropy, a charity set up by Cooper, provided that approval was obtained from either the Charity Commission or the courts. The Commission recommended that the decision should be made by the courts. 

In 2017, the High Court ruled that the grant should go ahead. But CIFF's third member, Dr Marko Lehtimaki – the only member with no conflicts – indicated that he may not vote in favour of the resolution. 

Lehtimaki took the case to the Court of Appeal, which overturned the ruling that the grant must take place. 

Cooper appealed to the Supreme Court, which yesterday published its judgment, saying that that the donation should be made. It said a court can make a ruling on whether a decision is in a charity’s best interests and that trustees would then be obliged to follow them. 

Following the decision, Cooper said: “I am extremely gratified by the Supreme Court’s decision. This will enable Big Win Philanthropy to significantly expand its support to African leaders pursuing ambitious initiatives to improve the lives of children and young people. I am very grateful to my legal team who worked so hard to achieve this result.” 
Leticia Jennings, a partner at the law firm Bates Wells who led on the litigation for Cooper, said: “This is the most important charity law case in many years. It has clarified many issues relating to members of charitable companies and their duties, as well as resolving frictions found in company law when it comes to charitable companies.

“This was the right decision in law and the right decision for charity. The conclusion of this case results in a total of $440m available for Big Win Philanthropy’s important work. Jamie’s drive to ensure that Big Win Philanthropy’s distinct and highly regarded approach to philanthropy is properly pursued has been incredible.” 

CIFF’s latest accounts for the year to December 2019, which were published earlier this month, show that the case has cost the charity £6.85m. 

In a statement, CIFF said: “We are pleased that these proceedings have now concluded.

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court will have no significant impact on the work that CIFF does around the world to improve the lives of children. 

“CIFF’s endowment of around $5bn provides sufficient funds to pursue the charitable objectives that we have set out and we expect to make grants totalling $340m this year and $345m in 2021, a sizeable increase on previous years. 

“Our focus has always been – and will remain – on our long-term aim of protecting and empowering children and young people, so they can survive and thrive in a world in which they face multiple challenges.” 

Editor's note: 3 August 

This article has been updated to correctly state that  Dr Marko Lehtimaki was the third member of the charity. 

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